Sleeping Beauty

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(Fr. title La Belle au bois dormant; Russ. title Spyashchaya krasavitsa)

Ballet in prologue and three acts with choreography by Petipa, libretto by Petipa and Ivan Vsevolozhsky, music by Tchaikovsky, and design by Vsevolozhsky (costumes) and Ivan Andreyev, Mikhail Botcharov, Konstantin Ivanov, Heinrich Levogt, and Matvei Shishkov (sets). Premiered 15 Jan. (public dress rehearsal), 16 Jan. (first perf.) 1890 at the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, with Brianza as Aurora, Gerdt as Prince Désiré, Maria Petipa as the Lilac Fairy, and Cecchetti as Carabosse and the Blue Bird. It is widely considered to be a summation of 19th-century classicism, with its exemplary collaboration between composer and choreographer. The libretto is based on Perrault's fairy-tale, but Petipa did much more than tell the story of Aurora's 100-year sleep and magical awakening. Rather, he created a homage to 17th- and 18th-century French ballet. The choreography makes detailed reference to court ballets in its use of period dances and processionals and the costumes were designed in Louis XIV style. (It was reputed to be the most expensive ballet produced at the Russian Imperial Theatres.) At the same time, the ballet features Petipa's own brilliant syntheses of contemporary French, Italian, and Russian styles in passages of technically complex and stylistically varied dance. His variations for the fairies in the Prologue and for the fairy-tale characters in Act III vividly display their different virtues, while the choreography for Aurora shows her developing from a young girl in Act I (where she has to perform the notoriously testing balances of the Rose Adagio), to an ethereal spirit in the Vision Scene of Act II, to a radiant bride in Act III.

The ballet made a profound impression on younger artists such as Benois because of its unusually harmonious accord between dance, music, and design (in the 19th century it was rare to aim for an overall consistency of style and period in ballet productions). It certainly encouraged Diaghilev to stage his own production for the Ballets Russes in 1921, which was so lavish that it nearly bankrupted his company. He salvaged a shortened version, based largely on the final act, called Le Mariage de la belle au bois dormant which was staged in Paris in 1922. Other productions of the ballet had been staged in the West including Savocco's staging at La Scala in 1896 and Clustine's 48-minute version which Pavlova danced in New York in 1916, but it was Diaghilev's which inspired de Valois to revive the ballet for Vic-Wells Ballet in 1939. This was staged by Sergeyev who also mounted the more lavish and famous production of 1946 which the company danced when they moved to Covent Garden after the war, and also at their first New York season at the Met. With its luminous, spacious designs by Oliver Messel, this production stayed in the repertoire for eighteen years and formed the basis of later productions at the Royal Ballet: Peter Wright's (1968, with additional choreography by Ashton), MacMillan's (1973 and 1977, with additional choreography by Ashton and de Valois), and Anthony Dowell's (1994, excising most later additions in an attempt to revert to the original choreographic text). It was also reconstructed by Monica Mason and Christopher Newton in 2006, using many of Messel's original designs. This 1946 production also became a model for others outside Britain, including MacMillan (Berlin Opera Ballet, 1977) and Nureyev (La Scala, 1966, revived National Ballet of Canada, 1972, and London Festival Ballet, 1975). In June 1999 Makharbek Vaziev oversaw a historic production for the Kirov, which was based on the 1890 staging and designs, and which was claimed to be the most authentic in the repertory. Other productions have included Nijinska–Helpmann (Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas, 1960), Grigorovich (Bolshoi Ballet, 1973), Helpmann (Australian Ballet, 1973), Alicia Alonso (Paris Opera Ballet, 1974), Mary Skeaping (American Ballet Theatre, 1976), and Peter Martins (New York City Ballet, 1991). Béjart's Ni fleurs, ni couronnes, based on images from Petipa's choreography, was created for Ballet of the 20th Century (Grenoble, 1968), and a chamber ballet version by H. W. Henze was produced by A. Bortoluzzi (Essen, 1951). Other versions of the story include Aumer's La Belle au bois dormant (mus. Hérold, Paris, 1829), Laban's Dornröschen (mus. J. Strauss, Berlin Staatsoper, 1934), and Ek's Sleeping Beauty (Hamburg, 1996). There are various films of the ballet including K. Sergeyev's, Leningrad, 1965, and the BBC's film of the Royal Ballet's production (1994).


Subjects: Dance.

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